If you’re a fan of entertaining espionage and exciting escapades, it’s been a banner year; 2015 has already seen the carefree fun of Mission:Impossible, the risqué rampage of Kingsman, and the playful parody of Spy. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. borrows a little from each of these categories, aiming to create a 60’s-infused action movie that plays out like an old Bond picture, buoyant and frisky but with glossy visual appeal for the modern marketplace.
It’s here that director Guy Ritchie succeeds in hitting his marks. Lavish environments shine through a retro haze, colourful costumes gleaming in rich Roman sun. Flute-heavy, bass-propelled beats provide a driving audio backdrop in established Ritchie style, and there are moments of groovy joy as the story winds through Italian streets. Our leading men, a tag-team spy duo from both sides of the Iron Curtain, play with similar spirit. Henry Cavill channels the suave swagger of a self-assured ladies’ man to become the outrageously named Napoleon Solo, the CIA’s best. Armie Hammer (“The Lone Ranger” himself) plays his enemy-turned-friend from Russia, the KGB wunderkind Illya Kuryakin.
While both quickly become complete caricatures, they are well placed amongst the light-hearted, exuberant tone. They share an enjoyable chemistry through their banter, Cavill throwing sly digs in his exaggerated American accent as Hammer quips back in his generic Russian inflection. Alicia Vikander completes the trio and couldn’t be more suitable for her role as the third musketeer, looking like she’s been pulled straight off the arm of a young Sean Connery or Roger Moore and dropped into the 21st century.
Unfortunately it’s the action and overall pacing that causes The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to stumble. There’s a noticeable drag just past the halfway mark and an uneven balance of excitement throughout; it distinctly feels as though the 115 minute runtime is hiding a gripping, 95 minute thrill ride that’s begging to be set free. There’s a good deal of time wasted across the board, but particularly in recapping and overly explaining various plot points. This isn’t Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, anyone with the mental capacity to purchase a cinema ticket or use the toilet unassisted can figure out these twists without being spoon fed.
The action is disappointingly lacklustre when it does arrive, larger set-pieces appear cheap and unpolished; a vehicular sequence later in the movie is possibly one of the least exhilarating chase scenes in recent memory. There’s a scattering of cool flashes and interesting tricks as Ritchie breaks out the audio drops and glide pans to strong effect, but the rest of his directorial effort seems misguided.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. fails to deliver the adrenaline-fuelled punch of its box office rival, the unstoppable Mission:Impossible machine, but is saved by its slick sense of style and strong performances. There’s nothing here that will dethrone Snatch or Lock, Stock as Guy Ritchie’s best work, and it feels unlikely that this will materialise into the franchise that Warner clearly hoped for.
★ ★ ★
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is on wide release in UK & US Cinemas now.